Telehealth has emerged as an essential strategy to provide patients with many types of care, including remote monitoring for home-based care and remote participation in clinical trials. The exponential rise in telehealth is challenging to even calculate. According to the Fair Health Tracker, billing for telehealth services for a year during the pandemic increased more than 8,000 percent in the Northeast.
But along with the surge in telehealth has come true accessibility gaps that we cannot ignore. Adoption of telehealth has been uneven by provider type, patient age, socio-economic factors, and by patient language, ethnicity, and race. A quarter of Medicare beneficiaries lack a device with the capability to conduct a video visit; the percentage is even higher for those who are Black, Latinx, and those with disabilities.
We address both the problems and promise of telehealth in “Emerging from COVID-19: An Action Plan for a Healthier State. I urge you all to read the report if you have not already, and to consider the recommendations in the Action Plan, especially those around telehealth (#8, #9, #10). The Action Plan provides a strong framework we can use to design telehealth for the future — the regulations, quality measures, reimbursement, and delivery models we need.
We will continue the telehealth conversation at our All-Council Conference May 19: Telehealth Equity — Bridging the Digital Divide. Members and invited guests can register here. Our keynote speaker is Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA. Dr. Patt is a breast cancer specialist in Austin, Texas, who will talk about delivering quality care and inclusive telehealth in her practice. A national leader in health policy, she champions research on electronic Patient-Reported Outcomes, or ePROs, telemedicine, imaging informatics, and informed decision making. We also have a stellar group of panelists from our membership who will share how they are addressing barriers to telehealth. You can read more about our conference and how to register in this newsletter.
A priority right now is to align on what is good quality care, and what types of care can be appropriately delivered through telehealth. Our focus should be quality, patient satisfaction, privacy, accessing medical records, and efficiency. We have a forum to craft that policy after New Jersey’s Telehealth law created the multi-stakeholder Telemedicine and Telehealth Review Commission. We need to move quickly and appoint Review Commission members and staff the commission. The Review Commission should identify populations that struggle with equipment use, obtaining equipment, or lack broadband — and propose policy solutions to address these barriers.
Finally, I urge you all to read the Take Five Interview with Claudia Tucker of Teladoc, who is the Policy Council Chair for the American Telemedicine Association. In this feature, Tucker outlines how Teladoc responded to the pandemic and shares the priorities of the American Telemedicine Association.
I hope to see you all at our conference, and, as always, I am eager to hear your views and perspective.